Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Archbishop Reminds Children That Jesus Holds Them Close To His Heart

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 28, 2005

At the Children’s Sabbath Mass on April 13 at Holy Cross Church, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the “little ones,” while reminding the “big ones” of their responsibilities given to them by God.

The Mass, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, brought together young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic, to remind all of the precious gift of children.

Cooing babies and parents sometimes leaving to quiet unruly children proved a not-so-subtle reminder of the reason the congregation had gathered.

Archbishop Gregory, abandoning the pulpit, walked among the children during his homily and made them giggle at the thought of their parents and other adults getting punished.

He told them that there were only a very few examples in Scripture when Jesus had gotten angry, once when his disciples tried to prevent children from visiting Christ.

“So when the disciples started sending the children away from him, because the disciples didn’t think that the children were important, Jesus got very, very, very upset, because he thinks you are very, very, very important and he thinks whatever you want to say to him is very, very, very important,” the archbishop said to the children. “And so the big people got into big trouble. And Jesus still cares how we big people treat the little people. And for some reason, I think he still gets upset when we big people don’t treat the little people as we should.”

Archbishop Gregory reminded the congregation of the harsh reality of child abuse and abandonment, which seemed especially significant as April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“There have been too many occasions when we big people have actually harmed little people who God gave us to care for. How angry he must be when we harm those little people who are entrusted to us,” he said.

“This Mass is an opportunity for the little people and the big people to come together in prayer. We remember that Jesus’ love embraces all of us, no matter our background, our age, our size or our needs,” he continued. “His love embraces and encompasses all of us. But we big ones need to remember that Jesus has always had a special heart for the little ones. He wants us as adults to remember the preciousness of our young people and to love them, protect them and to care for them as Jesus does.”

Though parents and children may have disagreements at times, it’s important to know that love is present, Archbishop Gregory told the children in attendance.

“During this Mass, I want to remind you how much you are loved by all these adults,” he said. “We think you are special and we know you are special in Jesus’ heart.”

Several children offered the prayers of the faithful, their eyes barely peeking over the ambo, despite stepstools in place for them. The gifts were brought forward by a Hispanic family, their children in native costumes complete with adorned sombreros.

As parents and their children came forward for Communion, Archbishop Gregory paid special attention to the children, giving each one a blessing, and at a reception following the Mass, he tirelessly greeted the eager crowd.

Without trepidation, many children ran up to hug Archbishop Gregory, who held babies and gently and jokingly tugged on pigtails.

Annette Alarcon, 16, said that the Mass made her proud of her faith.

“(The archbishop) made me realize just how much I love being a part of the Catholic Church,” she said.

Susan and Tim Hudson drove an hour and a half from Cleveland, where they are parishioners of St. Paul the Apostle Church, and brought with them their seven adopted children.

“I just thought it was wonderful,” Susan Hudson said of the archbishop’s commitment to children. “I so appreciated his message and this Mass—that someone would do this for children. People get so busy, and the children become less of a priority. It’s so important to remind adults and parents that we are responsible for our children and we need to take care of them.”

Angela Raviele, campus minister at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, said that the Mass provided subtle reminders of the unique blessing of children.

“I think in our society, sometimes people tend to think of children as a burden rather than a blessing. (The Mass) reminded us it’s time to refocus and realize that they are made in the image and likeness of God,” she said. “I think that especially helps us as educators, because we need to reevaluate our own attitudes and ask ourselves if we treat each child as a soul or just as a number. We need to be transmitting Christ to these children each day and we need to see Christ in each one of them.”

Sue Stubbs, director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, spoke of the significance of the Mass and said that having Archbishop Gregory celebrate it was a special blessing.

“It’s so important to protect our kids, and this Mass was about celebrating their specialness and their gifts,” she said.

The many children gathered around Archbishop Gregory reminded Stubbs of a “family reunion,” she said, adding that the archbishop was “very eager” to celebrate the Mass when she approached him with the idea.

“He’s really got a special place in his heart for children and for helping them to become what God wants them to be,” she said.